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Back in August, I made a pact with some friends to attain a certain literary goal by December 1st. Mine was to put together 100 pages of decent work. I started with around 40 pages and as of a few weeks ago, looked like I might come up short. Then, I kid you not, I read one story from Alice Munro’s new collection, closed the book, and started writing like crazy. Alice Munro is the antidote. For what? For everything.
I think anyone who has read this blog before could probably write my blog post about Dear Life. I’d read many of the stories before (there must be some courier service running straight back and forth between Alice Munro’s place and the New Yorker) but reading them all together provides new pleasures. The stories have a subtlety that renders their shocking tragedies possible and poignant, obliterating the very real danger of melodrama when telling stories involving affairs, drownings, and being left at the alter. The story “Gravel” is this collection’s “Dimensions” (from Too Much Happiness) the story I can’t think of without clenching my hands to my stomach. What makes this story so compelling is that the utterly devastating fates that befall the children in it are by their own making. Munro gives little girls agency–the power to act on their own behalves–but in so doing, doesn’t shy away from the consequences they have to face for their actions. In her stories, the power of girls is dark and real.
The story “Corrie” is another one that plays with heartbreak and agency; an unexpected, warm affair entered into by two consenting adults, never discovered, and yet still undone.
Returning to the subject of “And the Bear Went Over the Mountain,” which became the film “Away from Her,” the story “In Sight of the Lake” is in the point of view of a woman living with Alzheimer’s. It is humanizing, destabilizing and effective.
I could go through every story in the book, of course, but as always, what could I say that does them justice? I’ll skip to the last pieces in the collection, which are taken from Ms. Munro’s own life. While much of her fiction draws on her background, these snippets are true nonfiction, a fact we are reminded of in little authorial interjections–Ms. Munro lets us know what she might have changed had she been writing fiction. For example the garish orange dress on the woman she’d later discover was a prostitute telegraphed her point too clearly for fiction though, in real life, she truly had been wearing it. One can find many ways to link the memories she reveals to her books. These glimpses are short and sweet for an average reader, I’m sure, but for a Munro fiend, they are deep, rich and rewarding.